American Bicyclist is the magazine of the League of American Bicyclists, the oldest and largest bicycle advocacy organization in the US. They do good work, and produce a nice magazine to boot. When I was doing my kickstarter project, I sent out a gaggle of press releases, and one of them landed at the League, which sounds so comic book chic to me. One of their cycling caped crusaders contacted me to write an article. I wrote it and sent it in, bursting at the seams of the word limit, and they asked for more! So it became this feature, about an oh-dark-hundred ride out of town on the Yuba Mundo long tail cargo bike this Fall, to do a little solo dark skies observing with my telescope. It was a proof of concept in a way, as I hope to run some group night sky rides down some country roads once the Finger Lakes thaw. Sometimes I hate my writing, sometimes I’m fairly proud of it. This is an example of the latter.
All posts in category travels
Posted by DougReilly on March 1, 2013
My wife and daughter and I visited the Titanic exhibition at the National Geographic Society yesterday, and on the way in we were interviewed by a local CBS radio reporter. I’m afraid we didn’t have that much interesting to say. We weren’t aware of any anniversary (at least, not that it was yesterday in particular) and we weren’t there specifically to see the Titanic exhibition (I was more excited about the Samurai one to tell the truth). But I felt bad about giving such a lackluster interview that I think I’ve been struggling to justify the visit after the fact.
Thanks to The Online Photographer, my favorite photography blog, I found an angle that captured my imagination, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Yesterday, editor Mike Johnson published a long excerpt from Lawrence Beesley’s 1918 book (now in the public domain), “The Loss of the S.S. (sic) Titanic”. The chapter excerpted is matter-of-factly called “The Sinking of the Titanic, Seen from a Lifeboat.” Beesley was the one doing the seeing.
I’m only going to post a small chunk of the text, rather the way an iceberg presents only a tiny tip of itself out of water. It actually struck me (sorry) for the finely-recorded details of what a spectacular night it was that the ship learned it wasn’t an unterseeboot. Any amateur astronomer on board would have felt supremely lucky to be rewarded with such a starry night, thus making him or her no doubt doubly bitter upon freezing to death in the icy water a few hours later.
Here’s the very fine bit of writing that captures what an exceptionally clear, dark and still night sky served as the backdrop for all that sad drama:
The night was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen: the sky without a single cloud to mar the perfect brilliance of the stars, clustered so thickly together that in places there seemed almost more dazzling points of light set in the black sky than background of sky itself; and each star seemed, in the keen atmosphere, free from any haze, to have increased its brilliance tenfold and to twinkle and glitter with a staccato flash that made the sky seem nothing but a setting made for them in which to display their wonder. They seemed so near, and their light so much more intense than ever before, that fancy suggested they saw this beautiful ship in dire distress below and all their energies had awakened to flash messages across the black dome of the sky to each other; telling and warning of the calamity happening in the world beneath. Later, when the Titanic had gone down and we lay still on the sea waiting for the day to dawn or a ship to come, I remember looking up at the perfect sky and realizing why Shakespeare wrote the beautiful words he puts in the mouth of Lorenzo:—
Jessica, look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold.
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
[It's sad that most of us don't find that we understand Shakespeare better in the face of tragedy. Those Edwardians had some uncommon depth. Gads, sorry again. -Ed.]
But it seemed almost as if we could—that night: the stars seemed really to be alive and to talk. The complete absence of haze produced a phenomenon I had never seen before: where the sky met the sea the line was as clear and definite as the edge of a knife, so that the water and the air never merged gradually into each other and blended to a softened rounded horizon, but each element was so exclusively separate that where a star came low down in the sky near the clear-cut edge of the waterline, it still lost none of its brilliance. As the earth revolved and the water edge came up and covered partially the star, as it were, it simply cut the star in two, the upper half continuing to sparkle as long as it was not entirely hidden, and throwing a long beam of light along the sea to us.
Posted by DougReilly on April 17, 2012
My day job recently took me to Denver, Colorado, for a workshop and conference. When I first found out about it, I got a map and started looking at reasonable weekend excursions. I found that Moab, Utah was about six hours away. In eastern miles, that’s quite far, about the length of time it takes to drive from Geneva to New York City, for example. In western miles, it’s practically next door. When I was at Chaco Culture National Park, it was two hours to buy groceries. One way! They even provided dry ice so you could get your ice cream back home in solid form. I’m not sure those desert folk are living quite sustainably…
Anyway, I scheduled a car rental, and called up my friend Kate. I usually refer to her as “Ranger Kate” because she was a ranger–and my volunteer supervisor–at Capitol Reef National Park this past summer. Though she’s not currently a ranger. Kate and her husband Hau were kind enough to let me surf their couch during my brief stopover in Moab. They live in the old jail house. I was imagining bars and such, but it’s really just a cute house, no bars, with two very friendly cats, TC and Jackson.
Hau helps run a Field Station for a Utah university. It’s a neat concept, not very common in the East. It’s used as a camp-away-from-campus, and classes (everything from geology to archaeology, environmental studies, probably even English lit) can schedule time there to do field work. It’s a very cool idea, and not too far from my dream of an astronomy/ecology summer camp for kids of all ages.
Moab is an interesting little town. I liked it. Touristy in the way all touristy towns are…touristy, but it had some real substance beneath the surface I think, and it had no wax museum so it beats Niagara Falls and Lake George hands down. One of the interesting things I’ve been picking up on since my first visit to Utah this past summer is the incredible geographic range of social networks out here. When I traveled around Capitol Reef in July, I kept running into people who asked me if I knew Ranger Kate. Of course, this was a specific subset of the general (and generally thin) population: non-LDS, funky cool people.
When I was in Moab, Kate and Hau ran into several people that they knew from the Capitol Reef area, several hours away, or from other far-flung corners of Southeast Utah. There’s a lot of unsettled space between towns out there, but the towns draw the thin population in and let them mingle–and neat things happen.
Another thing that struck me was just how many things people have to do there to get by. Everyone seemed to have several jobs, some of them seasonal, and people always seem to have schemes to keep them going a bit longer, or push them further along whatever road it is they are walking down. Constant reinvention and flexibility seem to be the keystone concepts of building a life out there. I liked it.
It was a memorable, low-key weekend, filled with a little desert hiking in Arches and other places around Moab, some petroglyph hunting, and some nice long conversations with Kate and Hau. It was great to talk about ideas, debate possible solutions. I think it was me who posed this question: “If you could change one thing in the USA, instantly, to make it a better place, what would it be?”
I think mine was “People will no longer blindly believe corporations when they claim that their product or service, like hydrofracking, is safe.”
If you got a single change that you could enact across the country, what would it be?
While you’re thinking about that, check out my set of Moab images:
Posted by DougReilly on April 11, 2012
One of my big goals for being an “Astro VIP” for the Park Service this summer was to do as much public outreach as I could. Well, I can safely stand in front of that “Mission Accomplished” banner without fear of later historical revisionism. Astronomy outreach is a mixed skill set that involves simultaneously talking (which for me, with Italian genes, implies considerable flapping of the extremities) and manipulating a sensitive optical instrument so that an entire heterogenous group of 10-50, pint size to double-wide, has a chance to view whatever it is I’m talking about. It’s a bit of a trick. The upshot of this particular kind of teaching, and this should make most professional teachers jealous, is that my students for the most part (more…)
Posted by DougReilly on July 9, 2011